Leigh Ann and I were connected through a local Greenville connection with the primary reason being that we are both female business owners. We got to talking and realized that though our businesses were quite different, being a young female business owner has its similarities and I look forward to staying connected with her over these pivotal years of my young professional life. Today, you'll learn about her career path's winds and turns that got her to where she is today.
Over the 4th of July holiday, I sat with my boyfriend’s family playing the game of Life. As I played, I followed the straight path from graduating college, securing a job, getting married, buying a house, etc., and pulling in a steady paycheck. With my little blue car steadily making its way across the board, I started thinking about how real life is so far from the colorful board by Milton Bradly.
Growing up, many of us think life will be like this classic board game, but for most of us, that is far from the truth.
Throughout high school and most of college, I wanted to be a high school English teacher. I saved every essay, took notes on how I would teach a specific novel, and even had a list of things I said I would never do in my classroom. I was ready to be an educator and thought my life path was set. However, in my junior year of college, I began to stray from that well laid- out path. Education was still on my mind, but instead of teaching English, I wanted to go into Higher Education Student Affairs. For the next year or so, I volunteered in our Dean of Student’s office doing anything I could to learn and gain experience. When it came time to apply to graduate school, I had the right recommendations, the dean’s list grades, and the solid experience to get into my top two programs. I did it! I was on my way to living out my dream.
That dream quickly turned sour. The life and career I wanted could not be achieved in this field. It was a shock and totally unexpected. Suddenly I was not on that easy game of life path; I wasn’t even at a fork in the road. I was at a dead-end - confused, stressed, and discouraged.
I am not a quitter.
I am the person who sticks with something just to prove a point that I can do it. But for the first time, I decided to quit graduate school. Honestly, I felt like a failure for a while. I easily handled the work, but I felt like I had failed in choosing a life path. I was back at “Start” with no plan, and sadly, no dream.
My next step was surprising to some – considering I had fled Student Affairs. I was hired as an Admission Counselor for the New England area at my alma mater. Yes, it was higher education, but a calmer job. I loved the student interaction and after 2 years, I moved to the marketing side of higher education admission. I had the best of both worlds, writing and editing every day and still getting to travel a little bit and interact with students and families.
I stayed in higher education for 6 years and truly loved it, but I still knew there was something else out there for me. Being raised in a family full of entrepreneurs and being a person who just loves school, I took a huge leap. I quit my job and enrolled in a full-time MBA program with an emphasis in entrepreneurship. My little “Life” car had strayed way far from the printed path on the board game.
Almost one year of finance, operations, marketing, technology, and many other MBA classes passed, and March 2020 rolled in - along with Covid-19. We graduated without pomp and circumstance, the economy tanked, and I was once again at Start.
Following my pattern of jumping into new things, I applied for a part-time job at a locally owned Lilly Pulitzer Store and was hired during quarantine to build their E-commerce website. That very part-time job quickly escalated when I found out the owner was looking to sell/exit the business. In a matter of weeks, I went from hourly employee to owner. No retail experience. No real business experience. Just determination. I was buying a retail store in the middle of a global pandemic, so some may say I also had a bit of craziness. Nonetheless, the sale went through, and suddenly I was in a whole new world. Luckily, I had an amazing staff to help me learn the ropes, and in no time, we were thriving.
Now, over one year later, I look back and think, “WOW!” How exactly did I get from marketing director to MBA student to business owner just a little over a year? I think the answer is simple. It’s all about timing, hard work, risk, and accepting change. If my career path were laid out on a game board, it would be miles long and acres wide. Or conversely, if I had stayed on the straight and narrow, I would still be in an office somewhere wondering “what if.”
Life is a not board game. It is not a string of yes or no decisions - nor is anything certain.
I think many of us learned that in 2020, but those of us starting or changing careers in this time really took it to heart. I am grateful for all the changes in life and for all the lessons learned, and I want more than anything for others to embrace change and risk. It may not always pay off right away, but in the long run, it is worth it. Throw out the Life cards, fold up the game board, forge your own path, and don’t be scared to go back to “start.”
Connect with the Author: Leigh Ann Miller